Repealing B.C.’s helmet law may not be as ridiculous an idea as presented in the recent editorial, “Helmet hilarity” (Chief, June 21).
A growing number of jurisdictions have repealed their bicycle helmet laws: Ontario, Israel, Mexico City, Austin, Texas, Milton, Wash., and Northern Territory, Australia, to name a few. In addition, just this month, the government of Switzerland decided not to have a mandatory helmet law as did New York City. In B.C., the Policy Chair for the Liberal Party, Ted Dixon, is advocating strongly to get rid of the bicycle helmet law.
There are two main reasons why so many informed people are opposed to bicycle helmet laws. 1. Helmets do not do what people think they do. 2. Helmet laws make cycling more dangerous.
The effectiveness of helmets in preventing head injuries is grossly exaggerated. Bicycle helmets are designed to protect from falls at speeds up to 20 km/h. At higher speeds helmets have little positive effect. For example, the energy from a crash at 50 km/h wiIl only be reduced to the equivalent of an impact at 45 km/h. Contrary to what was stated in the article, physicians do not agree that bicycle helmets prevent serious head injuries.
However, there is agreement that helmet laws make cycling more dangerous. An unintended consequence of helmet laws is that in every case where they are introduced, the number of bicycle riders drops. This is significant because one of the greatest factors determining rider safety is rider numbers. In other words, areas where there are lots of bike riders there are fewer injuries and fatalities. Research shows that doubling the amount of cyclists decreases the risk of cycling by about a third.
One reason for this is lots of bikes leads to driver awareness and acceptance of cyclists’ presence on roadways. Another reason is that city planners are more willing to invest in cycling infrastructure if there are enough cyclists to warrant it. Denmark, The Netherlands and China have the highest rates of bicycle use and some of the lowest rates of helmet use. They also have a very low rate of bicycle-related injuries.
Interesting to note that in 2008 after Denmark started a campaign to show the “deadly” effects of not wearing a helmet, bike sales dropped by five per cent and 10,000 fewer cyclists rode in the city of Copenhagen per year. Are we creating a culture of fear by making people think cycling is dangerous? Statistically, you are more likely to get head injured driving in a car or even walking.
So, do helmets reduce the number of head injuries and fatalities? Some research says yes, some no. However, after 17 years of mandatory helmet use in our province, it has not had the intended results.
To be sure, head injuries are a very serious matter and we as a society should do everything we can to prevent them. However, we have to go about it in a rational, not emotional, manner. To that end we must look at the statistical evidence and act accordingly.